Rule of Law Seen as Indonesia’s Achilles Heel

A Defendant waiting for verdict from judges at a court in Jakarta. (JG Photo/Afriadi Hikmal)

By : Josua Gantan | on 8:05 AM April 17, 2014
Category : News, Crime, Featured, Human Rights

A Defendant waiting for verdict from judges at a court in Jakarta. (JG Photo/Afriadi Hikmal) A defendant waiting for verdict from judges at a court in Jakarta. (JG Photo/Afriadi Hikmal)

Jakarta. Upholding the rule of law remains a serious challenge in Indonesia. The Rule of Law Index Report 2014 released by the World Justice Project indicates that corruption is still rife among the nation’s judiciary and law enforcers. The report also shows that civil justice is not effectively enforced in the archipelago.

Hikmahanto Juwana, a law professor from the University of Indonesia, told the Jakarta Globe that although inadequate law enforcement has long been a serious problem, reform has proved elusive.

“Back in [former President] Suharto’s time, the law was just an ornament,” Hikmahanto said.

The 32 years of Suharto’s authoritarian rule have left a deep mark on the nation’s legal system.

Hikmahanto pointed out that little had changed even after Suharto’s New Order era came to an end with the brief presidency of B. J. Habibie in 1998-99.

“Since Habibie’s term, each president had always wanted to improve law enforcement here. But always to little avail. Nothing changed.”

The WJP’s effective enforcement index measures the effectiveness and timeliness of the enforcement of civil justice decisions and judgments in practice.

Indonesia received a score of 0.29 on the effective enforcement index, below even nations such as Serbia, which scored 0.31. By contrast, Singapore, one of Indonesia’s nearest neighbors, scored 0.85.

Corruption in the legal system

On top of problematic law enforcement, corruption is also prevalent in the nation’s legal system, according to the report.

The WJP reported that Indonesia ranked 80 out of 99 countries in terms of freedom from corruption in the country’s legal system.

“Problems related with bribery are everywhere, whether it be with judges, prosecutors, or lawyers. This is a real problem,” Hikmahanto said.

On the judiciary corruption index, Indonesia scored 0.34, lower than Ethiopia, which scored 0.35. Singapore scored 0.84.

The WJP’s judiciary corruption index measures whether judges and judicial officials refrain from soliciting and accepting bribes. It also measures whether the judiciary and judicial rulings are free of improper influence from government, private interests, and criminal organizations.

“Indonesians have this culture when it comes to their dealings with the law: they want to win more than they want justice to be meted out,” Hikmahanto said. “Many seek to win at all costs. A lot of money is spent wastefully in legal proceedings. People treat legal procedures like a gold mine.”

Subsequently, with respect to the level of corruption in the police or the military, Indonesia scored 0.37, alongside Afghanistan, which received the same rating.

The WJP’s police/military corruption index measures whether police officers and criminal investigators refrain from soliciting and accepting bribes to perform basic police services such as investigating crimes. It also measures whether government officials in the police and the military are free from improper influence by private interests or criminal organizations.

Underlying reasons

Hikmahanto contended that poor remuneration for legal officers may partly explain the prevalent corruption in the legal system. The Constitutional Court’s former chief justice, Akil Mochtar, is currently on trial on charges of bribery and money laundering.

“I am supportive of those who say a supreme court judge should be paid a Rp 500 million [$43,000] salary, that way the judge will be less inclined to corruption.”

Hikhamanto also claimed that inadequate human resources played a significant role.

“Now, democracy demands the rule of law. It demands law enforcers who are firm and knowledgeable about the law,” he said. “This is a problem of human resources. Law students’ quality is just mediocre.”

Hikmahanto explained that attending law school was far from a top priority for most Indonesian students.

“You can study law everywhere. And the cost of getting a legal education is cheap.”

Hikmahanto, who is himself a law lecturer, pointed out that in the eyes of most Indonesian students, many other study disciplines were considered more prestigious than attending law school. Therefore, the quality of law students are compromised.

“Those who work in the legal landscape — police, prosecutors, et cetera — studied law. In their time, there was nothing great about studying law. Conversely, it was great to be in the military academy or in the medical school,” he said.

“I think we need to be more selective in admitting law students into our universities. It will take time, it will take a generation," Hikmahanto added.

“We need to be patient. There must be an effort by everyone, by everybody in academia and those in legal institutions themselves. We need our legal field to be like in the United States. Only the top and the bright ones can get in. Just like in medical schools. Is it surprising that US presidents came from legal backgrounds?”

Detrimental consequences

Serious social and economic consequences await Indonesia should it fail to improve the rule of law. The extent to which rule of law is upheld in a country is often a yardstick that businessmen and investors use when considering where to operate.

“It causes dismay to investors, people who want to do business,” Hikmahanto said. “Were it not for that, Indonesia, I believe, would have been five times as developed.”

Rising unemployment and lower investment rates might befall Indonesia, Hikmahanto warned.

“There are plenty of jobs that could have been created. But foreign investors are already discouraged. They would rather invest in Thailand, for example," he said. “So the situation for us now is that there is no correlation between having a big market and having jobs for the people. That is the social cost.”

Besides economic impacts, the failure of the rule of law is felt in enforcement of Indonesia’s environmental and human rights legal framework.

The World Justice Project is an independent, non-profit organization based in the United States.

Among its honorary chairs are former US Secretary of State Madeleine Albright, former US President Jimmy Carter, and South African activist Desmond Tutu.

The WJP claimed that the Rule of Law Index Report 2014 captured the experiences and perceptions of ordinary citizens as well as in-country professionals. The WJP claims to have identified, on average, more than 300 potential local experts per country.

The report’s data was compiled by the WJP with the assistance of an Indonesian polling company, MRI-Marketing Research Indonesia.

The poll was conducted by means of face-to-face interviews with as many as 1,067 samples collected in 2013.

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